Three years ago, a cheeky little boy called Rafi came into my life. Rafi was not my son or my godson, but for half an hour each week, it felt a little bit like he was.

Rafi - not his real name - was one of three 8 year old pupils chosen by his inner London headteacher to receive extra reading help. The children selected were those struggling with their reading in various ways, and most were recipients of the ‘pupil premium’ - extra school funding for disadvantaged children. Rafi was very much in that category. He was from a low income, large immigrant family, the youngest of several siblings, and received almost no educational support in his chaotic home. He lived on an estate in an inner city area rife with gang crime. He ticked all the boxes.

Every week, I would spend half an hour with each of the three boys, including Rafi. The purpose was to improve their reading, of course, but we didn’t just read: we would chat, play games, choose books, discuss his schoolwork and holidays - and after several years doing this (under the auspices of Coram Beanstalk), I'd developed a whip-smart radar for their chosen methods of distraction.

Insects were a favourite of Rafi’s - he could spot an ant on the other side of the room and spend three minutes watching it and urging me to look at it too, if it got him out of reading a difficult paragraph. After so long reading with Rafi, I knew his tricks well. Typically, the children would do the sessions for a whole school year, and a new group of children were chosen at the start of the Autumn term.

But with Rafi, things were different. The headteacher decided Rafi should continue with the reading help until the end of primary school. So by this March, I’d known the - by now, 11 year old - Rafi very well. He’d talk to me about his weekend excursions, his prowess at computer games, and try out new jokes on me. On his 10th birthday he told me he’d been given some money. "What did you spend it on?", I enquired. “Fortnite and crisps”, he replied with a mischievous grin.

But suddenly one Wednesday in March, it all came to a juddering halt.

Schools closed abruptly due to Covid, and cheeky Rafi was gone. I hadn’t said goodbye to Rafi at our last session. He’d carried on reading a David Walliams book, and we finished by playing a few minutes of scrabble (I’d have to help him choose his words, but he still loved it). I’d said my usual “Bye then Rafi, see you next week, be good!” And that was that.

Of course by early March, everyone knew school closures were a possibility. But on that day, as I sat next to Rafi in an empty classroom on our tiny chairs, neither of us knew that would be the end of our happy routine for a long time. The only hint of impending doom was the moment Rafi showed me how good he was at washing his hands for 20 seconds. When you’re sitting very close to a child for half an hour, touching the same book and turning the same pages, that was a blessed relief to see.

Rafi was in Year 6, the final year of Primary school, a critical year which prepares the children for the big, bad world of inner-city secondary schools.

Like almost every other school, lockdown lessons had moved online, but not every child had a device, or parents with the time and inclination to help them. I doubted very much whether Rafi had his own ipad or laptop, and the thought of him settling down at home to concentrate on school work without any teachers present, day after day, was laughable. I imagined him playing Fortnite non stop for 12 hours each day, eating Monster Munch and barely leaving his bedroom.

As lockdown continued, it became increasingly clear that we might not be able to return to school before the Autumn, if then. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Rafi: what was he doing? Was he ok? ‘Summer learning loss’ is a well known phenomenon - children, especially disadvantaged ones, can often forget what they have learned after the long summer break and take a while to catch up. A full 6 months without formal education would undoubtedly do even more harm. When government ministers talk about the urgency of getting schools fully open again next month, it’s children like Rafi who I think about.

Boys like Rafi sit on a knife edge. Young men from his ethnic group notoriously control the drug trade in his London borough. Literacy might ultimately mean good qualifications and a regular life, but illiteracy and poor qualifications would surely put him first in line for another life altogether, one that I truly fear.

Rafi is due to start his new secondary school this week.

I wrote an email to him a few weeks back, sent via the school secretary, asking him how his lockdown was going. I never received a reply - but then 11 year old boys aren’t that keen on writing letters, in my experience. I finally admitted to myself that I was missing him, I was missing our sessions, and I was worried about his future.

A simple volunteer reading scheme might not seem like very much, but it is one of the simple threads that bind our society together and make the world a better place. The children benefit immeasurably, particularly from the one-to-one attention they too often don’t get at home.

Covid not only destroyed lives, but it also destroyed the education of so many vulnerable children who might never recover from the harm it wrought. I can only hope that Rafi - wherever he is and whatever he is up to - doesn’t number among them.

Follow Sarah Deech on Twitter @londonette